Waukesha mayor asking Great Lakes states to back diversion request

Apr 12, 2016

The mayor of Waukesha, Wisconsin, is on a tour of state capitals in the Great Lakes region. Mayor Shawn Reilly’s first stop was Monday in Lansing to press state officials to support his city’s request for permission to make a large diversion of water from Lake Michigan.

Waukesha – a Milwaukee suburb -- sits on the edge of the Great Lakes basin, but not in it. That’s why the diversion request must be approved by all eight Great Lakes governors. That’s under the terms of the 2008 Great Lakes Compact. Reilly and Waukesha public utilities director Danial Duchniak are on a road trip to five of the eight Great Lakes states to make the case for the withdrawal.

Waukesha’s water is contaminated with radium, a naturally occurring carcinogen. He says uncontaminated aquifers are tapped by all the communities in the region at a rate faster than the water can be replaced.

“We’re looking out 50 to 100 years and seeing we don’t have enough water for our citizens and the water we do have is contaminated,” said Reilly.

Reilly says approval of the request would help protect nearby wetlands, and set a precedent for allowing diversions in a narrow set of circumstances. Some environmental groups oppose allowing water to be moved outside the Great Lakes at all.  Waukesha has promised to treat and return all the water it pulls from Lake Michigan.

Reilly and Duchniak did not meet with Governor Rick Snyder, but with his top advisors on Great Lakes and environmental questions. Their next stop is Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

A preliminary decision on the request is expected in May by the Council of Great Lakes Governors with a final decision in June.